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Special Delivery

Not so long ago, the familiar sight of Royal Mail and the cheerful postie arriving in their iconic red van was a daily occurrence, marking the traditional way most of our parcels and letters were delivered. 

However, times have changed and these days, due to the huge increase in online retail, undoubtedly amplified by the effects of Covid, there are now a variety of delivery companies servicing our needs.

For customers, it's incredibly convenient; we no longer have to physically visit shops or carry cash, and the distinctive sound from our wi-fi doorbells advising us of movement outside has become almost Pavlovian!

Unfortunately, where most people see convenience and the opportunity to avoid doing something we don't particularly enjoy, fraudsters see this as a ripe opportunity to make easy money with very little chance of being caught.

My ex-law enforcement blogging 'partner' advises me that both of his adult children have left home, but nevertheless use his house as their delivery address from which they can collect their purchases when they visit. 

The delivery drivers either work for a variety of well-known courier companies arriving in various sign-written white vans, or increasingly, normal family cars or people carriers with parcels stuffed into every corner and driven by someone in casual clothing. If there is no answer, the driver will (a) make a half-hearted attempt to hide the parcel somewhere near the front door, but not too obvious from the street, (b) leave the parcel with a neighbour, or, only if really necessary, (c) try to deliver it again, however, this will invariably create extra work for them so this option is seldom chosen.

Fraudsters operating this type of scam normally work in pairs to ensure as slick an operation as possible. Their 'props' usually include a clipboard with a selection of delivery company letterheads copied from the Internet and 3/4 different uniform tee shirts or sweatshirts from the companies they pretend to work for. These can be swapped to suit the genuine courier they are following.

They will typically find a van driving around a residential area and follow them. They will observe them from a safe distance and as soon as they see them failing to get an answer at a delivery address - it's 'game on’. If the driver hides the parcel, it's simply a matter of waiting until they have driven out of sight before retrieving the package themselves. If they are challenged, they explain that they have been told that the sender has requested them to return the package as the contents are defective or that an IT problem has caused parcels to be delivered to the wrong address. etc. The fact that they are in a bright red/yellow/blue uniform dispels any suspicions and they are back in the van with their spoils before you can say 'impersonate’.

If the (genuine) delivery driver decides to leave the parcel with a neighbour, this just requires a slightly cheekier approach. The fraudsters again wait until the real driver is out of sight then they ring on the neighbour’s bell. When they answer they explain that they have come to pick up a package destined for their neighbour but despatched in error. Once again, the sight of a uniformed delivery driver holding a clipboard usually convinces them. Any remaining doubt evaporates when the fraudster asks to take a quick photograph of the neighbour holding the parcel to prove they have collected it. They always oblige, and with a cheery wave they are off to the next address.

NB My ex-cop blogging partner actually had this happen in front of him just before Christmas. One of his neighbours took delivery of a brand-new iPhone although he had never ordered it. He asked my partner’s advice, and he told him that it was likely that his bank had been hacked and to inform the bank immediately and check for any other unauthorised purchases. He also told him to contact the seller and advise them of what had happened. 

Whilst waiting for them to reply, the next day my partner saw a newish Mercedes pull up a few doors down from where his neighbour lives. A guy was driving, and young woman got out of the passenger side wearing a high viz tee shirt with the logo of a national courier stamped across the back. He watched as she rang on the neighbour’s bell but got no answer. She looked towards the driver and shook her head. My partner ran out and (knowing exactly what was going on) asked her if he could help. She said she was here to collect a parcel rather than deliver one and started walking back towards the car and her accomplice. My partner shouted after her, asking why a major courier with uniformed staff were in a private car. At this she ran up to the car, jumped inside and sped off. They are out there!

Other opportunities also exist around having goods ordered using stolen or fraudulently obtained credit cards, often in the name of the genuine occupier. That convinces them to accept the parcel, however, if you look carefully, the contact mobile number on the parcel is different to theirs as this actually relates to a burner phone used by the fraudster to track the delivery.

Blocks of flats are often a happy hunting ground for fraudsters as it's common for residents not to know exactly who lives in which flat. If genuine delivery drivers cannot get an answer to the address on the label, they will press all buttons in order to gain entry to the communal lobby and leave it there. The fraudsters follow on behind and follow the same procedures described above. If challenged they explain that the sender has instructed them not to deliver it as the contents are damaged or the wrong item has been despatched. They will explain that they will get the sack for delivering it contrary to instructions so plead to retrieve it. Not wanting the poor fraudster to lose their job, they happily hand over the package. Job done.

Don’t forget the text and email scams relating to deliveries either. Our phones regularly ping to announce the arrival of a new text or email, and it’s very easy to instinctively open them and follow the instructions. A popular scam is a message advising you that you have missed a delivery, and you need to click on the link to rearrange it. Emails will look very convincing and will often include the logo of a genuine courier company.  Under no circumstances should you click on the link! If you do so, it will very likely download malware (a computer program) that can give the fraudster access to everything on your phone – including your online banking and all stored passwords.

If you find all of this a little hard to swallow, try this; spend 30 minutes with a cup of tea observing your road. Count how many deliveries you see being made. If there is any lingering doubt, try looking on a very popular Internet auction site and search for delivery driver uniforms. There are lots! Unsurprisingly, these large delivery companies supply their employees with uniforms - often in bright primary colours to assist in further promoting the brand. Unless you are up to no good (or are holding a very unimaginative fancy dress party!) there can be no legitimate reason for anyone buying these items!

Never forget

A – Accept nothing

B – Believe nobody

C – Check everything

D – Don’t click on any links or use QR codes